Could Complexity Rehabilitate Mo/PoMo Ethics?

A well known passage from Marie Fleming could be invoked here to acquit complexity from the charges and accusation pertaining to relativism. He says,

Anyone who argues against reason is necessarily caught up in a contradiction: she asserts at the locutionary level that reason does not exist, while demonstrating by way of her performance in argumentative processes that such reason does in fact exist.

Such an absolute statement about complexity would similarly be eaten along its way.


Taking the locutionary from the above quote, it could be used to adequately distinguish from performative, or logic versus rhetoric. Such a distinction gains credibility, if one is able to locate an Archimedean point to share discourse/s, which, from the point of view of complexity theory would be a space outside the autopoietic system, or, in other words, would be a meta-theoretical framework. Such a framework is skeptically looked upon/at by complexity, which has no qualms in exhibiting an acknowledgement towards performative tensions at work. Such tensions are generative of ethical choices and consequences, since any accessibility to the finality of knowledge is built upon the denial of critical perspective/s, thus shrouding the entire exercise in either a veil of ignorance, or a hubristic pride, or illusory at best.

Morality gains significance, since its formulations is often ruptured for want of secure, and certain knowledge, and both of which are not provided for by complexity theory and French theory, according to the accusations labeled against them. Even if, in making choices that are normative in nature, a clear formulation of the ethical is obligated. Lyotard’s underlining conditions of knowledge is often considered unethical, as he admits to the desire for justice to be shrouded in an unknown intellectual territory. Lyotard has Habermas in mind in dealing with this, since for the latter’s communication therapy, what is mandated is clearly consensual agreement on the part of the public to seek out these metaprescriptions as universally valid and as spanning all language games. Habermas is targeted here for deliberately ignoring the diversity inherent in the post-modern society. For Lyotard,

It is the monster formed by the interweaving of various networks of heteromorphous classes of utterances (denotative, prescriptive, performative, technical, evaluative, etc.). there is no reason to think that it could be possible to determine metaprescriptive common to all of these language games or like the revisable consensus like the one in force at a given moment in the scientific community could embrace the totality of metaprescriptions regulating the totality of statements circulating in the social collectivity. As a matter of fact, the contemporary decline of narratives of legitimization – be they traditional or ‘modern’ (the emancipation of humanity, the realization of the idea) – is tied to the abandonment of this belief.

The fight over consensus, if it could be achieved at all, is contentious between Lyotard and Habermas. Obviously, it could be attained, but only locally and should not even vie for universal validity. Lyotard scores a point over Habermas here, because of his emphasis on the permeability of discursive practices dressed with paralogy. Justice, as a subset of ethics in the post-modern society, in order to overcome its status as a problematic, must recognize the heteromorphous nature of language games or phase regimens on the one hand, and consensus as reached must have a local space-time valuation contingently subject to refutation or nullification on the other. Such a diagnosis goes against the crux of modernism’s idea of ethics as founded upon foundational and universal set of rules, and maybe imperatives. Modernism’s idea of ethics is no different, at least in the formative structure from the rule-based analysis, since both demand a strict adherence to the dictates of rules and guidelines. A liberation comes in the form of post-modernism. Bauman sees the post-modern society as not only setting us free, but also pushing us towards a paradoxical situation, where agents have the fullness of moral choice and responsibility, while simultaneously depriving them of the comfort of the universal guidance as promised by modernism. Moral responsibility comes with the loneliness of moral choice. Such paradoxical events or situations facing man in the post-modern society only reinvests faith in agonistics of the network. At the same time, such an aporetic position is too paradoxical to satisfy many. Taking cues from the field of jurisprudence, the works of Druscilla Cornell could help clear the muddy waters here to an extent of a satisfactory resolution. Cornell aims to establish the relationship of the philosophy of the limit, or what she calls the post-structural theory of Derrida in principle, to questions of ethics, law and justice. Cornell shows no inhibitions towards accepting the complexity of relationships governing humans, and in the process accepts Hegel as the vantage point. Hegel criticizes Kant for his abstract idealism, and admits to our constitution within a social structure, which is teleologically headed for perfection. In short, the dialectical process is convergent for Hegel, since it is operative within a social/historical system aiming towards organization. Adorno differs here, since, for him dialectics is always divergent, with stress laid upon differences that characterize between humans as always irreducible to a totalizing organized system. This position of Adorno with its sympathy for difference is much closer to complexity, that at first would seem. Cornell carries further on from there and introduces the work of Luhmann, who is a towering figure in sociology, when it comes to bringing in autopoiesis within the fold. Humans are never allowed to stand outside the system that Luhmann thinks is not only complex, but autopoietic as well. Therefore, on an individual level, the choice element has no role to play, except, accepting the system that would undergo an organization to best suit its survival through a process of evolution, and not transformation. Luhmann’s understanding still prioritizes the present, and has no place for the past or the uncertain future. Cornell considers this a drawback, and makes past as an ingredient in understanding the meaning of an event, on the one hand, and following Derrida, wants to take up responsibility for the future, even if it is unknown. With a structure like this in place, it is possible to evade the rigidity of modernist claims on ethics on the one hand, and fluidity of evasive tendencies towards responsibility on the other. Instead, what Cornell calls for is an acceptance of the present ethical principles in all seriousness. That is to be resistant to change, and awareness of applications of the principles is what is called for. Ethics involves calculation in a responsible manner. In a similar vein, complexity entails irreducibility to calculation, in the sense of coming out with novelistic tendencies involving creativity that is not simply a flight of fancy, but an imagination laden with responsibility. Only, in this regard, could ethics mean not subjecting to any normativity. And, one of the ways to achieve this to obviously shy away from intellectual arrogance.


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